Ghana-based Benjamin Lebrave speaks fluent French and English, and can schmooze in Spanish and Portuguese. He reports on new African music every month for the Lungu Lungu column. Today he meet Ghanaian producer Magnom, the man behind a new wave of electro-spiked Afrobeats.
It's amazing how underrated producers are in Ghana. Equally amazing is how influential their work can be. Guys like Nshona Muzick, Ball J, or Appietus have shaped not just trends, but popular Ghanaian music as a whole. Yet they collect just a fraction of the attention and success that their microphone-inclined counterparts receive.
Recently, Edem's song "Koene"—watch the video below—kicked everybody's ass here in Accra: the song brings a fresh sound, blending paramount Afrobeat with electro. From the very first note, "Koene" stands out from the rest of the current hits. Some even think this song might herald a new wave of electro/Afrobeat music here in Ghana. The man behind the controls on Koene is Magnom, a producer who already has a slew of hits under his belt—and plenty more in his head, waiting for the right artists to pass through. Here's what he had to say about it all.
How did you get started with music? My dad is a music lover, we grew up listening to a lot of music—jazz, African jazz, reggae, country music. When I got to high school, I was in a rap group with Asem [called] Dream Team. I was rapping in English at the time, but back then in Ghana those songs didn't sell, so after a couple of years I quit. Then two years later in 2007 I got some music production software and started playing around with it, as a hobby. I started recording my little brother's friends, made a little money with it, that's how it started.
Sounds like beat making got professional pretty quickly. How did you record? I got my first studio in 2009, in Madina [a popular Accra neighborhood, home to many talented artists]. Before that I was recording in my dorm room at Legon University, [and] I would book studios and record at studios. While in university, I was recording a lot of underground artists, then in 2009, my last year, I got an apartment which I split into a room and a studio, without my parent's permission. They knew I was making beats, but thought I was going to get a dorm room. In a dorm everything is organized, paid for, closer to campus.
In 2011, I moved to a new studio, and started recording Asem. He was still my classmate, but also becoming quite mainstream at the time. He introduced me to other artists—Okyeame Kwame, Bradez—and I started recording them. I was co-producing with my brother, and I think I developed from the competition. He passed in 2011, heart attack in the studio.
How did that affect your music? I almost stopped producing music. I had to set up a new studio, without money. I had to move, my parents came, insisted I take a regular job. But I pushed. I opened a new studio, and in 2012 I started recording Sarkodie. We recorded "Illuminati," that was my first major hit, even though I already had some popular songs with Asem. There was a build up, but definitely "Illuminati" was a turning point. I was already getting calls, but after that song I got a lot, I started working with Samini, Edem, Guru, even Popcaan, 2face (https://twitter.com/2faceidibia), and just recently I produced the VVIP "Selfie" remix with Idris Elba.
Star-studded tinz! So is it your routine to hang with high rollers? I wake up and make beats. If I'm not sleeping in the studio, I get ready and go to the studio. I make beats, I record. I spend most of my time in the studio. On weekends I go out to listen to how people react to the songs I produce, see what else is getting played. Mostly, I am mixing, mastering and recording, because beats don't take much time. I mostly compose, send beats out to artists I want to work with, or when they request for beats, they come over and pick from a bunch I already have. Sometimes I make beats from scratch following their ideas.
I still reach out to some artists I want to work with, for example highlife legends like Pat Thomas and Daddy Lumba, just to make my new style with their style, with the highlife style. In Africa I'd like to work with artists like Cassper Nyovest, Wizkid, Davido, Ice Prince. Or even Jay Z, Kanye, Tinie Tempah, Beyoncé, Skrillex, David Guetta…!
So there was "Koene," and now your own single, "Kpa." It's a fresh sound—where did that come from? I have ideas of styles I want to put out, but the artists don't always agree with them. Since they are the ones pushing the sound, some of my ideas remain unnoticed. With "Koene," and even more so with my own single "Kpa," my idea is to blend Afrobeat and electro, add a hook to it, let the beat play. It's the first of a couple of singles I want to put out. The reason I want to push as an artist is because I can never force artists, so if I want to push a sound, I should be able to do it alone. In fact, I started as a rapper, so in a way, I am still on it.
It's such a different sound, how are you going about promoting the song? I promote the song like all artists do—I will promote it on radio, shoot a video, give it out to presenters, do interviews, just like an artist. I know most of the presenters so I don't pay payola, I actually don't know if people still pay. Also, I haven't been on their shows much, so interviewing me adds something for them as well. Also, some of the artists I work with are pushing me without me asking.
What's your setup like? I use Fruity Loops, an Edirol sound card, a Rhode NT1A mic, and Mackie MR8 monitors. Fruity Loops is the first software I started using, and I'm still so into it. Maybe I'll switch one day but right now I'm just enjoying it. Sometimes I just make a beat from scratch without a clear idea in mind, I just play around until I get something. Those end up being the most original beats. Sometimes I start from something I heard. Sometimes I start with the melody, sometimes with the drums, sometimes with the bass. Also, I listen to a lot of music—electro, trap, R&B. I have people I share music with. So if I'm going to produce an electro song, I listen to a lot of it to get into the mood. And I keep experimenting with different ways to blend genres, in this case Afrobeat and electro.
Lastly, what's this first single all about? "Kpa" means quick in pidgin, but it also means stop in Ga [the language of Accra]. The phrase "O be te kpa" samples Castro. it literally means "you will hear quick/stop" as in "til you hear stop"—it has a sexual connotation. I was supposed to record a song with Castro, but he disappeared, so I just picked the sample.